How To Choose The Right Pillow
Dr. Kimberly Harpenau, Chiropractor/Owner at Harpenau Family Chiropractic

There is nothing better than starting your day after having a good night of rest and feeling refreshed because of it. This is something that many people struggle with. Although there are many reasons why a person might have disturbances in their sleep, or wake up feeling tired, one common reason is because we are not sleeping on the proper pillow. Something as simple as a pillow can make a big difference when it comes to our quality of sleep. Sleeping on the wrong type of pillow can cause or worsen things like neck pain, headaches, and arm pain or numbness.

The primary purpose of a pillow is to keep the spine in natural alignment. Our necks curve slightly forward in order to support the weight of the head, and it is important to make sure that we are preserving this curve when we are sleeping. If your pillow is too high when you sleep on your side or back then the neck is forced to bend in an unnatural position either to the side of forward. This can result in extra strain on the muscles and the spine in the neck and upper back. Sleeping like this can also cause obstructed breathing, snoring, and can disrupt your sleep. On the other side of this, if the pillow is too low this will also create a strain on the muscles and the spine because there is not enough support for the head and neck.

Other than supporting the spine, a big part of what makes up a good pillow has to do with your own personal preference. The pillow must feel comfortable in order to help a person relax and feel well rested. The pillow should also mold to the persons shape in order to alleviate points of pressure.

Keeping all of these things in mind, we can now talk about different types of pillows to help you determine what would function best for you.

Back Sleeper

Pillows for back sleepers must support the curve of the neck and have proper support under the head, neck and shoulders. If you are a back sleeper you are going to want your pillow to be shorter in height that if you were a side sleeper. One of the best pillows for a back sleeper is one that has increased support at the lower 1/3 of the pillow in order to help maintain that natural curve of the neck. Also for back sleepers, you may find it more comfortable to place pillows under your knees to alleviate pressure on the low back.

Side Sleeper

Pillows for side sleepers are a bit different than for back sleepers. When you are lying on your side you of course still want your head and neck to be properly supported, and you want to make sure that your spine maintains a neutral, or straight position. Side sleepers should go for a pillow that is a little firmer so that is can take up the space between your shoulder and neck and create proper support of the neck. One way to determine the proper height is to take a measurement of the space between the outside of your shoulder and neck, your pillow needs to be that tall in order to support your head and neck. Another thing that can make you more comfortable while sleeping no your side is to place a pillow between the knees. By doing this it will help support the back, and also help prevent from the top leg rotating over the lower leg and causing a twist in the pelvis.

Stomach Sleeper

Sleeping on your back or side with the proper support is the best way to sleep in order to help your spine maintain its natural alignment, and so it is not recommended that you sleep on your stomach. Sleeping on your stomach causes the curves of the spine to flatten out, and can cause an increased chance of neck pain, headaches, and back pain. However, if you have made an effort to sleep on your back or side and still cannot change your sleeping position, make sure that if you are sleeping on your stomach that you have a flat pillow or no pillow at all. Also, place a pillow under your stomach to help the low back keep it natural position.

Other Types Of Pillows

Aside from your typical pillow, there are some other types of pillows that may be beneficial to you. These include: body pillows, cervical or orthopedic pillows, travel pillows, and low back support pillows.

Body pillow: This is a pillow that is as long as the body and serves as a support of the knees, legs, head, and neck for people who sleep on their side. These pillows are also favored by pregnant women because they allow for additional support to the abdominal area.

Cervical or orthopedic pillow: These are pillows that have a dip or depression where the head lies. These prove as extra support for the neck. This pillow is good for people with neck pain, and help keep the neck in proper alignment.

Travel pillow: You may find it uncomfortable to travel because of the stress it places on your neck. Travel pillows are U shaped and designed to fit around your neck thereby supporting it while you are in a seated position. This pillow will help prevent the head and neck from bending to one side or the other, and create additional support to the weight of the head. These are especially beneficial when traveling by a plane or car.

Low back support pillows: These are usually used in chairs or cars where you will be sitting for a long period of time. Sitting for an extended period can cause tension and pain in the low back. A lumbar support pillow fills the gap between the back and the chair and can help keep the natural curve of the lumbar spine.

So, how often should you change your pillow? It is recommended to change your pillow every 12 to 18 months. If your pillow is old it may contain skin cells, mold, mildew, fungus, and dust, and will lose its firmness and no longer be able to support the neck properly. When the pillow reaches this point make sure to make an investment in a new pillow that can adequately support your spine.

Using the proper pillow that is both supportive and comfortable can make a big difference in quality of sleep. If you have any additional questions on what type of pillow is right for you, please talk to us at Harpenau Family Chiropractic.


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